Evanston hopes youth programs will reduce crime

Alan Yu

At a special Evanston City Council meeting Monday night, the council added youth engagement to its list of goals for the year, focusing on how youth programs can reduce crime in the community.

The council set 12 goals in September 2009, one of which was increased partnerships with Northwestern. The council concluded they made progress with the current goals but expressed concerns with the lack of programming for youth.

“In the goal-setting last year the council talked a lot about youth issues,” City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said. “Some of our goals focus on that, but we don’t have a specific goal dealing with that – what are we doing to support youth in the community?”

The problem lies not only with youth who drop out of high school but also those who stay in school but fall through the cracks, Ald. Lionel Jean-Baptiste (2nd) said.

“They put (these students) in alternative schools, they sort of warehouse them, and these kids, they may graduate, but there’s nothing going on,” Jean-Baptiste said. “If they don’t have mentorship, they don’t have guidance. They don’t have an entity that intentionally pays attention to them.”

The city already has several initiatives planned, said Doug Gaynor, Evanston’s director of parks, recreation & community services. Gaynor listed the expansion of summer youth programs into year-round programs, mentorship programs and partnerships with District 202 in the Careers Pathways program as examples of programs that aim to engage youth.

“The best example is a program that I ran in California where we actually assigned folks to work with our park rangers,” Gaynor said. “We can put them in forestry, we can put them in public works, we can put them in offices.”

Ald. Delores Holmes (5th) said the city should provide more activities for youth, but it should not expect those activities to deal with all crime.

“We certainly do have young people involved in crime, but it’s a smaller number,” Holmes said. “I’d like not to get that mixed up with the bigger crimes that are happening in the community.”

Crime is an important issue that affects all the other goals and should be set apart from the youth issue, said Ald. Ann Rainey (8th).

“When I look at (the goals), I don’t see the issue of crime, and I just feel that it is an extremely important issue in this town and it affects everything else,” Rainey said. “It affects economic development, it affects housing, it affects the lakefront, it affects our downtown, it affects everything, so I’d like us to be more upfront.”

However, Jean-Baptiste said youth programs affect the future of the entire city.

“I think it’s essentially creating conditions to have productive citizens,” he said. “The key link to our general stability is how our youth are turning out. They could destabilize or they could be productive citizens who continue to contribute.”

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